There are as many ways to fulfill the Great Commission as there are people who take on that command from Jesus. Backpacking is one of them!
In 2017, my friend Renee Scheil spent her second year in New Zealand with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). She was part of the YWAM staff at the Oxford base, where she had been a student the year before.
All YWAM Discipleship Training Schools (DTSs) have the same format: The first half of the program is classroom training, the second half is outreach.
What differs are the various tools they use to frame their training and outreach. YWAM Oxford offers a Backpackers & Climbers DTS.
Weekend Backpacking Trips for Training and Fun
During the classroom portion, students could choose a weekend backpacking excursion into New Zealand’s breathtaking natural beauty.
Renee was in charge of planning and leading the weekend trips—making sure they had the right gear, the right food in the right quantities, the route, etc.
These weekend treks could be easy and fun, or strenuous and challenging (which can still be fun!). After five days of teaching, most of the students were ready to get out and explore their surroundings.
Several of the students had some backpacking experience. And they would all learn important skills here they’d need later in the outreach portion of the DTS.
Not just the physical skills—but the mental and spiritual aspects of determination, perseverance, teamwork and encouragement.
The Outreach Phase: An Outward Focus
Renee’s team was assigned to southern India and Nepal for their Outreach Phase.
In India, they backpacked into a bouldering area frequented by tourists…hippy-ville, Renee called it! They stayed in local hostels and hung out with the folks they’d meet on the trails, many of them searching for meaning in their lives.
They came in daily contact with people looking for answers, and planted seeds of Jesus’ love with them.
As they headed into Nepal, the toughest portion of their Outreach Phase, Renee’s team came under an established organization called FIVE14. FIVE14 has several businesses that all focus on bettering the lives of the Nepali people. Their website says:
We’re a group of Nepalese and internationals who love adventure and the people of Nepal – especially the people. We think everyone should experience the beauty of this nation and help the people while they are here.
(You’ll want to check out their website! Renee spoke of them with the highest respect. What an amazing combination of adventure travel and community development!)
A Social Justice Adventure
Renee termed their 19-day trek a Social Justice Adventure. One of FIVE14’s key focuses is keeping Nepali girls out of the sex industry (they’re most vulnerable from the ages of 5-14) by working in remote villages to…
- Help bolster the local economy with tourism and other businesses
- Provide education (75% of the women are illiterate in the areas where FIVE14 works)
- Instill a biblical worldview of the value of every person
- Teach hygiene and basic health care
Of course one can’t sum up an experience like this in a sentence or two, but Renee said:
“My team spent the last 19 days hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas helping with post-earthquake relief work in some remote villages along the way. It was such an awesome experience to be the first westerners to stay in a Sherpa village and see how they live life. Nepali people are amazing!”
Renee described the Nepali culture as incredibly open, generous and welcoming—even though the villagers live in poverty.
One of the most sobering, and yet encouraging things she experienced was being in one village where FIVE14 focuses. Just a few years ago, there were no young girls—they had all been trafficked out as an income source for their families.
FIVE14 has come alongside these villagers with the kinds of support described above, so by the time Renee’s team got there in 2017:
“Now you see all these 5-and-under little girls running around, and we know it’s because of this ministry bringing income. It was really cool to be a part of that.
“The backpacking was really hard for some of the people on my team. And it was spiritually really, really intense. I could feel peoples’ prayers covering me. The warfare was real, but it didn’t affect me like it has in the past.”
Renee has already spent two summers working in Glacier National Park (she was my main source of info for The Best Short Hikes in Glacier National Park).
She currently works as an occupational therapist assistant in the Minneapolis area, and helps out on her family’s cattle farm on the weekends.